Dell’s New All-In-One PC vs. Apple’s iMac.

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While technically not available until Monday, 11/19, you can actually pre-order Dell’s new XPS ONE PC now for shipping later this month. Gateway’s latest AIO machine is also called the One, so I wonder why Dell used the same name. Will Gateway sue? Can they? Would they even care? I didn’t write up Gateway’s machine because, frankly, it’s unimpressive. Only a 19” screen, weaker processors by iMac standards and too expensive for what you get.

Based on the information available on Dell’s ordering site for the One, here are a few observations on the machines and a comparison to Apple’s latest iMacs:

Processors – The two low-end Ones use mobile Core 2 Duos at 2.2 GHz on an 800MHz front-side bus. Since they start at $1,499 that makes them slower than what Apple uses (2.4 GHz) at the same price. However, the high-end Ones use desktop C2D processors at 2.33 GHz on a 1333 MHz FSB. Apple’s two high-end models use 2.4 or 2.8 GHz mobile processors on an 800 MHz FSB. How much of a difference will the slower clock but higher bus speed make? Don’t know, but it’s an interesting design choice by Dell. (Now we know, see the update below.)

Display – The Ones all have a 20” display; not sure why they don’t offer something bigger. It doesn’t say the resolution, but I assume it’s 1680 x 1050. Apple offers 20” and 24” displays.

Graphics – This is where Dell saved their money, and it’s too bad. The two low-end Ones use integrated graphics, and that’s a shame. With more and more use of a GPU in software these days, and more sophisticated photo and video software used even by the average Joe, I think a desktop machine should have a dedicated video card. Certainly one starting at $1,499 should. Meanwhile, the two high-end Ones come with the ATI Radeon HD 2400 Pro, which is still a step behind the lowest-priced iMac ($1,199 with an HD 2400 XT). Think about that: Apple put a better graphics card in their low-end model (at a price Dell doesn’t even offer) than Dell put into their high-end models! Meanwhile, all other iMacs come with the next-generation HD 2600 Pro.

Wireless – All models include a wireless keyboard and mouse. They also include Bluetooth and b/g/n networking. Dell should have chucked the wireless KB and mouse (from Apple they’re $59) and put in better graphics.

Memory – All models include 2GB RAM. The truth is Vista Home Premium really needs this, but it’s a good decision nonetheless. The iMacs are 1 GB except for 2GB in the Extreme edition.

Drives – For the four Ones it’s 250, 250, 320, 500. I see no option in the BTO to change any of these. A shame, in my opinion, though these are good sizes. Apple offers 250, 320, 320, and 500, with BTO options up to 1TB.

TV Tuner – All Ones include a TV tuner and remote. Personally, I just don’t think it’s of much use to the majority of people getting a computer. Still, there it is. All iMacs include a remote.

Media Reader – All Ones have an 8-in-1 card reader. I wish Apple would put these in the iMac. Lots of people are buying a computer for that whole “hub of my digital life” thing Apple talks about. A card reader makes it a lot easier to get your digital life into your machine.

Software – Dell stepped up here, and it was a smart move. They include Adobe Elements Studio on every model. Until I switched to Mac, I ran Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements and can tell you they’re fine products. Studio also includes Soundbooth CS3; I ran a trial of that and found it be a good product as well. Clearly, this is Dell’s way of countering iLife on the iMac. Instead of relying on Vista’s weak photo and movie software they got something that could actually compete with iPhoto, iMovie, and Garageband. Further, the two low-end Ones get MS Works (OK, OK, big deal), and the two high-end Ones get MS Office Student and Teacher addition. Bottom line is if you buy either high-end model you’ve got all the basics covered with great programs in all categories. Well done, Dell. All iMacs includes the excellent iLife, and iWorks is available for $79.

Price – The One’s price seems reasonable, and a good value. Starting at $1,499 you get a 2.2 GHz C2D mobile processor, the Adobe suite, MS Works, built-in TV tuner, 2 GB RAM and a 250 GB hard drive. The weakest link, by far, is the on-board graphics. I especially think Vista and the Adobe suite will be hampered by the lack of video oomph. The next model is $250 more and kind of silly to me; it simply increases the warranty and includes wireless headphones. The next model is the one I like the best. At $1,999 it drops the headphones but adds the desktop 2.33 GHz C2D, the ATI 2400 HD Pro, a 320 GB drive, and MS Office Student and Teacher. Finally, there’s a $2,399 model that bumps the drive up to 500 GB and adds a Blu-Ray DVD.

Summary:
It looks to me like Dell paid attention to the latest iMac announcements. Their pricing is pretty competitive. For $1,499 you can get a 20” iMac or One. If the inclusion of Adobe Elements Studio negates the iLife advantage, then the One has advantages in RAM, the card reader and the TV tuner. The iMac has advantages in the faster C2D processor, ATI HD 2600 Pro card (a huge advantage over built-in graphics), and a 320 GB drive. Take your pick, but I believe the iMac has a clear performance advantage.

At the higher end, take the One’s $1,999 model and the iMac $1,799 model. To the latter add iWork; now it’s $1,878. The Dell has advantages in RAM, the card reader, the TV tuner, and the desktop processor. (This is not an advantage, see update below.) The iMac has advantages in the 24” screen (which is a big thing, no pun intended), faster ATI HD 2600 Pro graphics, faster processor (see update below), and a lower price. Again, take your pick but both very nice machines.

As for aesthetics, I like the look of the Dell except for the speaker “ears” hanging off the side. These are already wide-screen machines, so making them even wider with the speakers looks awkward to me. Still, I think it’s a decent looking machine though I like the aluminum iMac look better. One aesthetic I can’t gage is volume. I expect the high-end Ones with a desktop processor to probably need some fanning. While even the iMac 24” with C2D Extreme at 2.8GHz makes not a sound, it’ll be interesting to see how quiet the Ones are.

Only time will tell regarding overall quality, performance (we know about performance, see update below), etc., but on the surface I think Dell is off to a good start with the One. They certainly appear to have avoided most of Gateway’s mistakes in terms of features and price.

[UPDATE:] C|NET has reviewed the Dell high-end (Blu-Ray drive) model, and the iMac 2.4GHz (with an extra GB of RAM added) soundly beat it on every performance test.

In some ways I’m actually a little disappointed in this. I thought the move to a desktop processor was a pretty bold one for Dell, and while I had concerns with extra fan noise (or even overheating), I though that the slightly slower clock speed (2.3GHz) would be made up for by the much faster bus speed (1333 MHz vs. 800). Obviously not. I guess Dell didn’t do their homework enough, or perhaps Apple did.

Maybe Dell just went with bottom-line savings (I assume desktop processors are still less expensive than their mobile counterparts). Either way, Dell’s high-end configuration got trounced by Apple’s mid-level machine (remember, Apple’s high-end is a 2.8 GHz C3D Extreme).

In my article I talked about the performance advantage the $1,499 iMac should have over the same-priced Dell. Given these scores from C|NET on Dell’s best, I’d think the comparison of the $1.5K models would be an embarrassment for Dell.

C|NET does agree with me on software:

“As it did with its new XPS 420 desktop, Dell again closes the gap with Apple on this system with its software. Argue about Vista vs. the new Leopard OS all you want, but we’re referring to Adobe’s Elements Studio suite that competes strongly against Apple’s iLife 08 software. No other PC vendor offers an answer to iLife, and this remains a selling point for Dell.”

As I said, the Adobe suite is nice. Mac Daily News poo-poohs the software, but they’re wrong. However, the Adobe suite is not a package that takes to slow machines kindly. If I had any complaint it was its sluggishness. The fact that even the high-end Dell is not an impressive performer does not bode well for it. Further, I think the Adobe suite on the entry level might be exasperating. Note to Dell: don’t include useful software if you can’t include hardware to run it on.

So, does the new performance data take the shine off these new Dells for me. Yes, a little. I think Dell sunk perhaps too much money into software and went cheap on the graphics and CPU power. Perhaps they had no choice. They needed a counter to iLIfe, and they needed to keep the prices in line with iMacs. I guess shooting for the iMac isn’t so easy after all, but I still believe Dell came a lot closer to the target than Gateway did.

[UPDATE #2] PC Magazine just published a biased review and likes the One better than the iMac. How do I know it’s biased? They used the older Adobe Photoshop CS2 as one of the tests. Since this does not run natively on Intel Macs, the Dell was able to beat the iMac (though not by much). Pretty pathetic on PC Mag’s part, but whatever.

Even with the grossly unfair testing, the iMac still won half the tests. Bottom line is that even when running Photoshop natively the One could only beat the iMac by eight seconds running Photoshop in emulation! Heck, even PC Mag’s own scores show the iMac over three times faster on the 3D benchmark test! In other words, the iMac blows the doors off the One, just as C|NET had shown.

But all of that is glossed over as the reviewer is awe-struck by the AIO design, saying

“The XPS One shows once and for all that the future of desktop PCs is in the all-in-one form factor.”

Um, no, the iMac showed that years ago. He also says

“Your friends will walk in the room and ask, “Where’s the rest of the PC?””

You mean like “Where did the computer go?”, Apple’s tag line for the iMac years ago? Geez, is this guy 19? Did he just start reviewing PCs? Maybe that’s why he hasn’t saved enough money from his paper route to get the current version of Photoshop. Pathetic.

Oh well, I guess sometimes “PC Mag” has to live up to its name, but this is very blatant bias in my opinion.

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